The avoidable controversy that has engulfed the acquisition of 45 per cent equity interest in Oil Mining Lease (OML) 30 by a foreign company, Heritage Oil, in liaison with a local firm, Shoreline, vitiates and even questions the age-long economic policy declarations by the federal government on the need to give preference to indigenous entrepreneurs in any domestic competition.
In corroboration of the foregoing, the Nigerian Content in the Nigerian oil and gas industry is clearly defined as “the quantum of corporate value added to or created in the Nigerian economy by a systematic development of capacity and capabilities through the deliberate utilisation of Nigerian human, material resources and services in the Nigerian oil and gas industry.” Therefore, the inexplicable engagement of Heritage Oil at the expense of Nigerian bidders for the prolific OML 30 is antithetical to our national economic philosophy as it affects the oil and gas industry particularly.
The case is further worsened by the fact that the bidding process was flawed ab initio and the outcome now mired in disputatious challenges from all local stakeholders and other well-meaning Nigerians. The interesting aspect of this matter is that the country has highly qualified personnel and firms with proven capacity to manage OML 30 just like other oil blocks they have been administering over the years. Three of these companies with about the best industry pedigree – Conoil, Oando and Forte Oil – were schemed out in favour of Heritage Oil whose principal proprietor, Tony Buckingham, has a global question loop on his integrity.
If for anything, government must inconsiderately give a block away to a foreigner, it should not be to a questionable character whose reputation is a subject of intermittent butts by the international media. We had thought that in this particular circumstance, consideration should have been given to the local companies which have optimal capacity to play in this league and have satisfactorily shown over time that they can prospect to better advantage for the country and its nationals beyond profitability commitments which solely drive predatory foreign prospectors who statutorily have domestic fronts that are catalytic to their historical exploitative tendencies.
There is no doubt that the country’s laws allow foreign participation in the petroleum sector. We are not ignorant of this fact, but there are also provisions in our statutes which categorically make it clear and mandatory that on no account should Nigerians with equal business and other qualifications be allowed to suffer any form of deprivation in preference for their foreign counterparts. The contrary can only be tolerated in situations where the locals do not even pre-qualify which make them ineligible in the first instance.
In the spirit of the hallowed Nigerian Content paradigm, we strongly demand that the entire process resulting in the controversial acquisition of OML 30 by Heritage Oil should be reviewed. And, as we have pointed out, in doing this, optimal consideration, not undue advantage, should be accorded our fellow countrymen on nationalistic and patriotic grounds.
The local companies involved in this matter are better placed to develop the country’s oil and gas business in compliance with the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act 2010 (NCDMB Act) enacted by the federal government in April 2010 than foreign companies. The Nigerian entrepreneurial spirit must not be dampened by rash and unpatriotic officialdom that sacrifices enshrined nationalistic goals.
This is a testy case for the government, and with the incontrovertible submissions by cross-sections of the society and the advice of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, the controversial acquisition of OML 30 should be revisited.